I said I’d be ecstatic, and I am. Ecstatic, and really tired. I amazed myself today. It’s not that I thought I couldn’t run a half marathon in under 1:35– I knew that I could do that on a flat course. But as we drove up a two-mile long hill in the middle of the very hilly route yesterday, I couldn’t keep from my mind the thought that 1:45 was a more likely finish time.
After my two-month break from running because of a knee injury, my training has been sparse, to say the least. A weekly track workout for the past month, long runs of eight, ten, and twelve miles at about eight-minute pace, and mostly just rest in between. No reason to suspect any real improvement (other than injury rehab) in my fitness level.
But right from the start today, I felt stronger than I’ve ever felt in a race. I had planned to start at a 7:15 minute-per-mile pace and hold onto that for as long as I could, figuring I’d lose it once the hills started to wear on me. But my watch read 6:50 after the first (uphill) mile and I thought “I can keep this up for a while.” So I did. I ran the next two miles at about the same pace, and the fourth in 6:30– it was downhill. I kept running sub-sevens until the dreaded two-mile hill at mile seven. The first mile of the hill was alright; I think I did it in about 7:15.
The second mile of the hill was brutal. I almost stopped to walk, something I haven’t done in a race in a long time. I didn’t, but as I neared the top of the hill, I thought to myself, “This is where all those fast miles catch up with me; there’s no way I’ll recover from this.” It easily may have been the worst hill I’ve ever had to climb in a race. I completed this eighth mile in well over eight minutes, dashing my unexpected hope of finishing in under 1:30.
The rest of the race is a blur. I did somehow recover from the kill-on-the-hill, logging a few more miles at about seven minutes, and there was one more tough hill at mile eleven. The final half mile was run through some horse stables and around an old horse track. I was under the impression that horses don’t race there anymore, but they must at least still come to go to the bathroom, judging from the smell. It was kind of fun to run around their track, but more than fun, it was annoying having to run through soft dirt at the end of the race. I entered the track pretty certain that I’d beat 1:35, but still had to haul ass in that dirt to actually do it.
But alas, I did it. And I’m so excited about the potential for my Boston qualifying in the fall. 1:35 is really nothing special, as 1:31 in a half is considered “equivalent” to 3:10 in a full. But this course was so much tougher than my full marathon course will be. In fact, I’m thinking of adding a (flat) half to my training schedule just to see how much I can tear it up.
What I’m happiest about is that I’ve made these inexplicable gains in my fitness level. Inexplicable, that is, if you don’t consider my diet. I’m a natural skeptic, so I’m reluctant to just attribute everything to being vegetarian for a month and a half, and pescetarian for a month before that. But I do believe that it has played a big part, because something has to be responsible! Maybe it’s the five to seven pounds I’ve shed since I started eating this way.
Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Erin and to Colleen and Joel for cheering me on today. Erin got in a four-mile run herself on the course, just trying to see me at as many spots as possible, and she even ran with me for a few hundred yards! The three of them were the loudest cheering section I heard for any individual today, and if you’ve run any distance races before, you know what a difference that makes.
Enjoy the pictures. Cool shirts, huh? Most of the photos came out blurry for some reason, so I don’t have too many to post. But I’ll get the professional ones soon and post those. I don’t have official results yet (like split times and what place I finished), but I’ll post those as well when I get them.
[Update: I just got my results. I finished in 49th place, out of 1466 finishers! And 9th out of 109 in my age division (men 20-29). I'm like, a real runner!]